Youth Orchestra’s Instruments All Made From Recycled Landfill Trash

July 22, 2013 by

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“The world sends us garbage, we send back music.” In the barrios of Paraguay, there is a a youth orchestra whose musical instruments are made exclusively from the trash of the local landfill.

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Cateura, Paraguay is built on top of a landfill where gancheros (recyclers) search the piles of trash for sellable goods, and where their children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs.

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Environmental technologist, Favio Chávez, 37, learned to play the guitar at 11 years old and later became the choir director at his church and the conductor of a youth orchestra in his hometown. In 2006, Chávez began supervising Cateura’s gancheros in sorting the landfill’s garbage for the town’s recycling program. After watching Chávez conduct his youth orchestra, the gancheros asked if he would teach music to their children, many of whom spent afternoons playing in the trash while waiting for their parents to finish work.

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Chávez agreed, and soon the music program for the kids of Cateura had more students than instruments. With no money for instruments, one of the resourceful garbage pickers turned luthier, Nicholas Gomez known as Cola, worked with Chavez to make violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, guitars from packing crates.

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Thirty school children, the sons and daughters of the gancheros, now make up the The Recycled Orchestra whose trash-borne instruments produce not just beautiful sound but profound hope for their musicians. Chávez believes the what is required to learn an instrument can be applied more widely to lift his pupils out of poverty.

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“There are a lot of drugs, a lot of drug use, alcohol, violence, child labor. A lot of situations that you wouldn’t think are favorable for kids to learn values. However, they have a spot in the orchestra, like an island within the community, a place where they can develop these values. We see that they are not just changing their own lives, but those of their families too. We’ve seen cases where parents with addiction problems have quit taking drugs to go their kid’s concert. And in a lot of cases the parents have gone back to finish school because their kids are being seen all over and they think, ‘they are going forward, I want to too.’ They’re not only changing their lives, but the lives of their families and their community.” Favio Chávez, Orchestra Director 

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Favio Chávez, Orchestra Director  

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Luthier and garbage picker, Nicolás Gómez, aka “Cola” 

The film, LandFill Harmonic, follows the story of the children and their families, documenting the birth and life of the Cateura youth orchestra. More than a film, LandFill Harmonic is a movement with plans to utilize $214,129 (over their $175,00 goal) raised in their successful Kickstarter campaign to take The Recycled Orchestra on a worldwide tour of music and inspiration.

Thank you to Adam Albright Hanna at Upworthy for making me aware of this great story.

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